"I can't believe you're going out on a blind date with someone you know nothing about."
"That's sort of the point, isn't it?" Miranda held the phone between her shoulder and her left ear as she tried to fit the gold post through the hole in her right ear lobe.
"But, I mean, you know nothing about him. He could be a loser."
Miranda switched the cordless phone to her other shoulder and repeated her effort on her left ear lobe. "Look, Janey, I know you don't get along with her these days, but you have to admit that if there's one thing your sister knows, it's men. Y'all grew up together. You know better than I do that Paxton only dated nice guys and now she's married to the best of the breed."
"Okay, I'll agree with the last statement. But she didn't tell you anything? I mean, if Paxton told you something, I might be able to figure it out and tell you about him."
"He went to Dartmouth."
"Okay, that rules out a few men. What did he study?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Miranda, he's probably gay."
She slid her feet into her new black pumps, bought that morning in the moments between blowing her schedule with police-related boredom and blowing her budget on police-related research. "She said he's not."
"What does a straight man do in Stamford with a degree in Comparative Literature? He can't be a professor, or she would have told you where he did his other degrees."
"She wouldn't dare fix me up with a professor. I just spent six years with one and she knows I'd go screaming into the night at the prospect of spending time with another. He and James have been friends since they were kids. If he were the type of boy who pulled the wings off flies and set fire to the cat, you know James wouldn't let her set me up with him." Miranda traded the confines of the huge walk-in closet for the bathroom that was as big as her living room in Atlanta. "She also said he's old money and doesn't have to work but does anyway. I assume he's a day-trader or an art collector or something."
"Oh, wait a minute. Dartmouth. I know who it is." Jane burst out laughing. "This is too good to be true. It almost makes me want to call to congratulate her."
Miranda stopped moving and met her own eyes in the mirror above the marble-topped vanity. "Jane, honey, tell me everything you know this minute."
"You just said you would."
"I lied. You have to call me tomorrow and tell me everything."
"There may not be anything to tell. The evening could be a total washout."
"It won't be. Trust me."
Miranda paused, her lip liner halfway to her mouth. "After you just lied to me? I don't think so, darlin'."
"Trust me," Jane repeated. "I went out with him once."
"Only once? What's wrong with him?"
"Absolutely nothing. It was a very long time ago. But that's all I'm going to tell you."
"Thanks for nothing, sugar," Miranda said. "I have to get off the phone right now or I'll be late. Are you really going to send me into the unknown without any more information?"
"Well, I'd go out with him again, but I doubt he'd ask me. Feel better?"
She blotted her lipstick gently. "No."
"Okay, here's my advice. Don't fall for him. Everyone does. Where are you going?"
"Chez Jean-Pierre. It's on Bedford Street near the police station."
"Oooh, nice. Leave plenty of time for finding a parking space, though."
"Great. Now for sure I'm going to be late. I'll talk to you later."
Miranda gave herself a final, stern look in the mirrored wall of the bathroom. Her hair was upswept and soft, her makeup and jewelry were understated. Her black miniskirt wasn't too short, her heels weren't too high, and her sapphire blue angora sweater was on the baggy side of sexy.
"Casual yet elegant. Professional. Grown up. Nervous as a virgin in a whorehouse," she muttered and spun away from the mirror. "I'm way too old for this nonsense."
At the bottom of the large, curving staircase, she grabbed her small black purse, slipped into her long black coat and headed out of her borrowed condo to her illegally tagged car to meet a dark-eyed stranger she wasn't supposed to fall for.
reprinting any part of this website without prior permission is strictly prohibited.
Signet Eclipse ~ June 2005
THE FIRST KISS
Chas let his eyes roam over Miranda's face before continuing. She was beautiful. Aroused and beautiful and trying damned hard not to be sexy. He wondered if she knew just how miserably her efforts were backfiring. "I'm not interested in marriage and my heart doesn't break. That makes me the quintessential 'spare man', something every society hostess craves. In return for completing her table now and then, Paxton has introduced me to quite a few nice women."
"Do you end up dating them?"
He put down his wineglass and met her eyes again. "Forgive me for pointing this out, but your questions are becoming what my grandmother would call impertinent."
Miranda laughed, which wasn't the response he was expecting or looking for. "What would you call my questions?"
She laughed again and inched forward conspiratorially. "I apologize, Chas. Like I told you last night, I've totally abandoned my manners since I met you. Every Southern grandmother shelling peas on Heaven's front porch is surely looking down upon me in horror and shame. But, heaven help me, I'm intrigued, is all. I've never met a man who was so up-front about not getting involved with women. It sounds complicated."
"Quite the contrary. It's extremely simple, Miz Miranda," he replied in a deliberate parody of her drawl. "I avoid commitment. On purpose. Intentionally. Openly. What about you?"
"What about me?"
"According to Paxton, you've re-entered single life fairly recently, but according to what you said a few minutes ago, it sounds like you don't have much of a social life."
She smiled. "Some girlfriend she is, giving you the low-down like that. I'm going to have to remind her of the rules. Well, you're right. I don't have a social life when I'm on deadline."
"You're on a deadline now."
"Don't tell my editor, but I occasionally have to get things done. Like fulfilling my civic duty and eating lunch."
Enough was enough. The bill had been paid, the dishes had been cleared, the conversation had turned into sexual banter, and all he could think about was-- He stood up and walked around the table to her chair. "It's time to get you back to the pumpkin patch, Cinderella."
He resisted the temptation to touch her as they left the restaurant but by the time they had crossed the large, empty gravel parking lot, putting more and more distance between themselves and those deep feather beds a couple could lose themselves in, touching her was all he could think about. He opened her door then walked around to the driver's side. As he settled in his seat, it felt as though the inside of the small car had gotten smaller or their personal spaces had expanded. Either way there didn't seem to be any room for withdrawal.
Knowing there was a very good chance he could end up with a black eye or worse, Chas leaned toward her slowly, captured her chin and lowered his mouth to hers. Her lips were soft and parted in surprise. She tasted of Chardonnay and coffee, of warm, strong, passionate woman and of infinite possibilities. After only a few seconds, she began to kiss him back, tentatively.
Tentative was fine. For the moment. He moved closer, slid his hand into that silky mane of hair and was about to deepen the kiss when she stiffened. A second later he felt her hand against his chest.
"Stop," she whispered against his lips.
"Why?" he whispered back, then took her lips again, wet them, traced them.
He took his hand away and lifted his head, and she turned immediately toward the window. Then she took a deep breath and he knew two things: everything she would say in the next thirty seconds would be a lie, and the game was over. For now.
"Chas, you're not my type of guy," she began haltingly and he glanced at his watch. "I'm here on business, just for a short time. I don't want--" She took another breath. "With Paxton and all, things could get complicated and I don't want that. You were right this morning, I do like you, but not like that. Not like this."
All that in only twenty seconds. Not bad. He eased back into his seat, giving her some space. "Is that five reasons or six?"
It didn't surprise him when she didn't answer.
"Which is the real one?" Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine.
"My old boyfriend and I are sort of--" She sighed.
"I just can't, Chas. I won't."
He fought the urge to shake his head, to shake her for lying. He took a deep breath and decided to let her talk herself into a corner, or out of one. "If you're back with your boyfriend sort of, why did you kiss me back?"
"I'm not sure, but it won't happen again."
"I can guarantee it won't," he replied evenly. "I don't like women who cheat."
As expected, she bristled and turned those sparking green eyes on him. "I'm not cheating. You kissed me. I don't remember extending an invitation."
"You kissed me back, Miranda. It was an option. You exercised it." He pushed in the clutch and turned the key, gently bringing the powerful engine to life. "That's against the rules. If you're spoken for, you're obliged to tell me before anything happens."
She let out an annoyed breath. "I'm not spoken for. A parking space is spoken for. A table at a restaurant is spoken for. I am not spoken for. And I can make up my own mind about whom I kiss and when."
Chas turned to her, looking her straight in the eyes. He kept his voice low and calm and even. "Then make up your mind. Right now."
Miranda didn't move an inch, didn't even blink. "What do you mean?"
"Me or him."
She didn't hesitate. "Him."
"Why was that so difficult to remember two minutes ago?"
God Almighty, he wanted her more than ever. Putting the engine into gear, he pulled slowly onto Route 7. Silence reigned.
"What if I'd said you?" she asked ten minutes later.
You'd be naked and breathless, lost in a sea of French goose down. He slowed down into blind curve, then shot forward as he cleared it. "I knew you wouldn't."
"You're not the devil-you-don't type of woman. You like things safe."
"There's no way Paxton said anything like that about me."